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Writers Strike Getty 2.jpg

Brace Yourselves, Hollywood: The Actors Might Go on Strike!

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | May 24, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | May 24, 2023 |

Writers Strike Getty 2.jpg

The WGA strike is in full swing, with pickets lines across the country and slews of productions brought to a grinding halt. The writers’ demands are pretty simple but, of course, the studios and corporations are holding their noses and pretending it is business as usual. Change is never handed to the people. It must be fought for. Well, if the head honchos thought that the writers would be alone in their battle, they fought wrong. The Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (better known as SAG-AFTRA) is also gearing up for a fight.

Last week, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the National Executive Director & Chief Negotiator for the Guild, released a statement to members asking them to vote Yes on authorizing a strike. This doesn’t mean a strike will occur but it’s a key negotiation tactic to get the powers-that-be to pay attention. As the statement noted:

‘As President [Fran] Drescher and I wrote to you yesterday, the union is preparing to enter bargaining with the members of the AMPTP, including Amazon/MGM, Apple, NBCUniversal, Disney/ABC/Fox, Netflix, Paramount/CBS, Sony and Warner Brothers on the TV/Theatrical Contracts beginning June 7, and this could be one of the most consequential bargaining sessions in history.

There has been a sea change in the entertainment industry, from the proliferation of streaming platforms to the recent explosion of generative AI, and at stake is the ability of our members to make a living. We must ensure that new developments in the entertainment industry are not used to devalue or disrespect the performers who bring productions to life.’

Like the WGA, SAG-AFTRA share many fears over the growth of AI and studios’ eagerness to use it over actual humans. There have been a lot of concerns lately regarding how deepfake and AI could be used to replicate an actor for projects against their will, and the lack of compensation from that. As with the writers, the domination of streaming has also led to a decimation in residuals, and since those platforms don’t allow anyone to see their actual viewership numbers, it’s impossible to properly negotiate contracts.

With these changes leading to big hits against major talents, imagine how much tougher it is for the majority of actors in SAG-AFTRA, who are making a living from bit-parts, guest roles, and minor TV arcs, plus the residuals they offer. The industry is already destroying that. A recent report from CBS noted how they had gotten rid of the entire supporting cast of the sitcom Bob Hearts Abishola, downgrading them from series regulars to guests with five-episode guarantees. That means less money, less job security, and less residuals. And this is for a popular network sitcom. Imagine what happens when this spreads throughout the TV world. It’s destroying livelihoods.

Again, there’s no guarantee a strike will actually happen, and we’ll have to wait until June for the results of the SAG-AFTRA vote. Still, it’s clear that the industry is afraid it’s all going to go down, and we’re already seeing the ripple effects of that.

Yesterday, Deadline reported that production had shut down on the indie drama The Island, set to star Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara, because the threat of a potential actors’ strike scared bond companies enough that they are unwilling to put the money down to insure the film. Because both Phoenix and Mara are SAG-AFTRA members, the fear is that they would be called to strike mid-production and the bond companies did not want to deal with that. So, the actors have gone home and are waiting to see what happens. This is an indie movie with two major actors in the leads. Bond companies are a way for indie films to ensure financial security that they would usually get from a big studio. So, if they’re truly spooked about a possible strike, they’re not likely to risk their cash, even for A-Listers. As the Deadline piece notes, one indie financier said that this issue ‘has arisen on other projects and until we have clarity on the SAG-AFTRA situation, which is unlikely for the next month, then the problem will remain.’

Oh, and did we mention that the Directors Guild of America is also negotiations with the studios? And that they’ve already expressed full solidarity with the WGA?

If SAG-AFTRA strikes, that might get studios truly scared. It’s unfortunately true that they only really care about the big names who truly put a dent in their profits, but solidarity is a powerful tool, and not even AI can replace the people who audiences pay to see on screens big and small. This could be the Summer of Strike, and the repercussions could change the entire entertainment world. Support your local unions, kids!